Politics & Government

Stories about politics and government actions

Inside the Michigan Senate.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

State lawmakers are considering multiple plans that would significantly increase state road funding. The state Senate on Thursday approved legislation that would raise the state’s gas tax to pay for road improvements.

But state Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, says they could still try to pass a plan that would raise the state’s sales tax.

“We may look to change the sales tax. And that may be a better way to fix the structural problem that we know exists at the pump already,” Richardville told reporters on Thursday.

 There’s a split in Lansing about how far and how aggressively to push for gay rights in Michigan -- specifically to update the state’s civil rights law.

Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act

This is as much a cultural split between Lansing lobbyists and the LGBT community and how they view their mission as it is a difference of opinion about tactics and priorities. However, it has now jeopardized, if not already doomed, the effort to update Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA).

The ELCRA already has protections against housing and employment discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and weight, among other things.  It’s long been a goal of Michigan’s LGBT advocates to add LGBT protections to the law.

History repeating itself

Thirty years ago, that effort cost state Representative Jim Dressel (R-Holland) his job. He lost his Republican primary in 1984 after he introduced a bill to add the phrase “sexual orientation” to the law.

This past summer, state Representative Frank Foster (R-Petoskey) suffered a similar fate for being the millennial Republican leading the effort on the GOP side of the aisle. His hope was to leave the introduction of the law a part of his political legacy.

Gender identity

But, efforts to accomplish that goal in this year’s “lame duck” session are now hung up on the words “gender identity.” That phrase would ensure that transgender people are also covered under the law.

A business coalition, put together and led by AT&T of Michigan President Jim Murray, was pushing the issue saying it’s not just a question of fairness, but talent - convincing people that Michigan is open, inclusive, and a good place to look for a job. Not only was it a persuasive group on its own but pretty much every multi-client lobbying firm in Lansing was also engaged in the effort.

Pothole in a road.
Wikimedia Commons

Legislation that is expected to raise up to $1.5 billion a year to fix Michigan’s roads has cleared the state Senate.

Depending on how the price of gas fluctuates, the legislation would effectively double the amount of tax people pay at the pump. Instead of paying cents on the gallon, drivers would pay a percentage of the wholesale price of fuel. That percentage would gradually rise to 15.5 percent between next year and 2018. Drivers currently pay 19 cents per gallon for gasoline.

House bill 5477 passed on a 23-14 vote.

Local government meeting room in Lansing.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s latest Public Policy Survey, CLOSUP, takes a look the trend that has taken place toward local governments in Michigan privatizing services. 65% of Michigan’s local government are now contracting out work. Tom Ivacko from the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy tells us whether more privatization will occur in the future and if local leaders are satisfied with the work done through outsourcing.

Listen to our conversation with Tom Ivacko below: 

Detroit skyline.
user JSFauxtaugraphy / Flickr

Detroit's historic and unprecedented bankruptcy came together last Friday for approval from Judge Steven Rhodes.

The Detroit News recently provided in-depth coverage from business columnist Daniel Howes and reporters Chad Livengood and David Shepardson.

We talked to Howes about how the case was completed in 15 months, about the key players, and about what must be done to avoid repeating mistakes.

You can listen to our conversation with Daniel Howes below:  

Freedom Michigan campaign aims to update the Elliot-Larsen civil rights act to include the LGBT community.
user Marlith / flickr.com

Yesterday, a federal judge ruled that Michigan’s law preventing public schools and municipalities from providing benefits to unmarried partners of employees was unconstitutional.

Critics of the law said it impacted same-sex couples almost exclusively.

The same day we also saw a bill introduced in the state House that would add protections for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals to Michigan’s civil rights law.

Susan Demas, publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, and Ken Sikkema, former Senate majority leader and senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants, joined me to talk about what it could mean for the Legislature and the state.

Here's our conversation:


Today on Stateside:

  • A discussion about Detroit’s historic bankruptcy case.
  • What happens when business executives come to work for City Hall?
  • Michigan Radio’s sports commentator John U Bacon stops by to talk Lions, Spartans, and Wolverines.
  • We meet the eight-year old Mayor of Amphibiville.
  • Detroit before cars was all about the horse. We take a look back.
  • And more on the surprising find that Atlantic salmon are reproducing naturally in the upper Great Lakes.

*Listen to our show above.

The group tasked with making sure post-bankruptcy Detroit stays solvent met for the first time Wednesday.

The nine-member Detroit financial review commission will serve as the last word on the city’s financial decisions for at least three years.

The panel will review and approve all city budgets, major contracts and collective bargaining agreements during that “control period.”

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Legislation that would make changes to Michigan’s regulations on non-profit organizations is stirring controversy at the state Capitol.

Bills cleared a state House panel Wednesday that Democrats say they would make it easier for political organizations to hide information about their donors.

Today on Stateside

Michigan State University

Researchers at Michigan State University have developed software to help nab criminals when there is no photo of a suspect or when the photo or video is of very poor quality.

The new FaceSketchID System matches police sketches with large photo databases of mug shots and drivers licenses.

Anil Jain, an MSU professor of computer science and engineering, led the research team.  He said this is another tool for identifying a possible suspect when the police only have visual descriptions from witnesses. "The face-recognition systems which we have match two photos," he said. "But they don't do very well in matching a composite with a photo. So that's the gap which we have filled through our research."

Marijuana plant.
USFWS

This Week in Michigan Politics, Emily Fox and Jack Lessenberry discuss whether the legislature will be able to come up with a plan to fix Michigan's roads before the end of the year, a challenge to a Grand Rapids law decriminalizing marijuana, and what’s next on Detroit’s road to recovery.


Detroit's riverfront.
Ian Freimuth / Flickr

Matt Helms at the Detroit Free Press reports that Mayor Mike Duggan has some sticker shock over the cost of Detroit’s bankruptcy.

Helms reports that Duggan “is alarmed” that the city will have to pay lawyers and consultants close to $200 million. Duggan worries the payout could put the city at risk of not meeting the terms of the city’s plan of adjustment – a plan the federal bankruptcy judge approved last week.

More from Helms and the Detroit Free Press:

Three people familiar with Duggan's views on the fees told the Free Press that the mayor believes the total fees could climb close to $200 million, an amount he worries could jeopardize the city's ability to meet the bankruptcy's financial terms. That compares to the roughly $100 million that many bankruptcy experts predicted would be the cost when Detroit filed for the nation's largest-ever municipal bankruptcy in July 2013.

A spokesperson for former emergency manager Kevyn Orr disputes that the bill could reach $200 million, saying the fees charged to the city reached $144.3 million as of October 31.

Today on Stateside: 

  • Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta from It's Just Politics talk about what might be on the agenda for the lame duck legislative session. 
  • A Michigan State senior is heading a group to get protections for unpaid interns.
  • Frontier Ruckus has made its mark nationally and internationally in the re-emergent folk rock world. The Michigan band has a new album out today.
  • When you think of good improv comedy, your first thought might be Chicago's Second City. But there's a thriving improv comedy scene in the Detroit area, too. 
  • Shopping for a new car, truck or SUV? Then you've seen that sticker on the window telling you the car's MPG rating. Many consumers give great consideration to a vehicle's fuel efficiency when making a choice. But did you know the EPA does its MPG testing in a lab in Ann Arbor?
  • Tom Walsh from the Detroit Free Press explores the fall of the auto industry in Michigan since the 1960's. 
It's Just Politics Logo
It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

State lawmakers will be back in Lansing tomorrow, beginning their lame-duck legislative session.

Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta from It's Just Politics join us on Stateside to discuss their list of lame-duck issues.

Here are five issues they believe might come up:

1. Roads: Governor Snyder wants more money to fix the roads, but the Legislature has not been able to agree. 

2. Adding protections for gay or lesbian individuals to the state's Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act: Debates over inclusion of transgendered individuals or religious faith opt-outs may complicate the decision making process. 

3. Education: Education issues like teacher evaluations, third grade reading standards, and changes to how Detroit school board members are designated are all on the docket for the lame-duck legislative session.

4. No-fault auto insurance: Republicans have been trying to end unlimited medical coverage for accident victims, according to Rick Pluta.

5. Allocation of electoral college votes: Michigan is a winner-take-all system, meaning that whichever candidate for president gets the most votes, they win all of the state's 16 electoral college votes. There is a push by some Republicans to have the votes be allocated by congressional districts instead.

*You can listen to the full segment above. 

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Having secured court approval for its bankruptcy restructuring last week, Detroit is now ready to emerge from bankruptcy.

But some Detroit residents and activists say that plan sacrificed both democracy and the public interest.

The group Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management says the bankruptcy process was about imposing financial solutions on social and political problems.

And they believe the newly-approved “plan of adjustment” won’t benefit the vast majority of Detroiters.

Today on Stateside:

  •         Emails from an order for 500,000 ignition switches by General Motors from December 18th have been released. Jeff Bennett broke the story for the Wall Street Journal and talks to us about the importance of these emails in a pending legal case.
  •           In Ann Arbor, kids caught spray-painting serve their community service time by cleaning up graffiti under the Juvenile Graffiti Removal Project. Listen to Sgt. Thomas Hickey of the Ann Arbor Police Department discuss his creative idea.
  •          Called “the greatest American player of all time” by Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock, Chris Chelios has certainly left his mark on the city of Detroit and the Red Wings franchise. Listen to him discuss his new memoir, Made in America.
  •          While high-profile chemical spills and bacterial blooms have raised concerns about the safety of drinking water in the United States, it’s not the only pollutant reaching the water supply. Listen to chemist Andrea Sella report for the BBC on how the medicines we take are ending up in our environment.
  •          Rebecca Klaper, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences has been studying the presence of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) within the Great Lakes. Listen to Dr. Klaper discuss the presence of PPCPs in the Great Lakes.
  •           East Jordan Iron Works has a 131-year history in the state of Michigan. You can’t walk across a street in Michigan without stepping on a manhole cover branded with their name. Listen to VP Thomas Teske discuss the history of the company.
  •          In the fight against blight in Flint, Gordon Young had a goal of raising $10,000 to tear down a single decaying home on Parkbelt Drive in Flint. After contributions from over 150 donors, Young has exceeded his goal by more than $1,000.
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Grand Rapids officials are working on a massive long-term plan to restore habitat in the Grand River and revitalize downtown.

Initially, the plan was just to restore the river rapids that gave Michigan’s second-largest city its name.

But now Grand Rapids city planner Suzanne Schultz says the plan is much broader.

“This is huge, really, really huge, but it’s exciting,” Schultz said.

(Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A new plan to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads could emerge in the state Senate as soon as this week.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, failed in the summer to pass legislation that would boost state road funding by more than $1 billion a year. But he says a group of lawmakers has been working on the issue for months – and he thinks this time will be different.

“We’ve decided as a caucus this is a priority,” said Richardville. “It’s not just me, but I think everybody there. And now we’ve got our sleeves rolled up. We want to get it done.”

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Flint’s emergency manager is drawing closer to picking a key appointee to help guide the city out from state oversight.

Flint has been run by an emergency manager for three years. But current emergency manager Darnell Earley’s tenure will end in April. 

Earley wants a city administrator to take over his role running the day-to-day city business. 

A national search drew more than two dozen applications. That number has been trimmed to five finalists and one alternate.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

There’s disagreement over who should be picking replacements for two soon-to-be-vacant Flint City Council seats.

The councilmen are leaving after being elected to other offices.

Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley says he is looking at the options, which may include selecting new council members himself.

“That is an option that will be reviewed in addition to other options that are also available,” says Earley.

Several council members say they would rather the emergency manager let the council decide appointments like it has in the past.   

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan Republicans may hope to deliver the state to the GOP presidential nominee in 2016, after sweeping nearly all of Tuesday’s statewide races.    

Republicans won races for governor, attorney general, secretary of state, along with numerous congressional races. Democrats held on to the U.S. Senate seat on Tuesday’s ballot. 

That might leave Republicans with the feeling Michigan may be ready to slide into the GOP column in the 2016 presidential race.

But Bill Ballenger of Inside Michigan Politics thinks that might be unrealistic.    

user Tyrone Warner / Flickr

This Week in Review, Jack Lessenberry and Rina Miller discuss Michigan’s anti-gay marriage law being upheld, the Detroit bankruptcy trial ruling, and what to expect during this term’s lame-duck session.


Map showing counties with the highest and lowest voter turnout.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The overall voter turnout for Michigan was a bit underwhelming this election cycle - less than half of those people eligible to vote in Michigan showed up at the polls on Election Day.

But what about individual counties? Which had the best voter turnout, and which had the worst?

Here's what we found from data provided by the office of the Michigan Secretary of State:

Counties with lowest voter turnout:

Michigan lawmakers chose new leaders after the recent elections.
Matt Katzenberger / flickr.com

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan lawmakers' first order of business after the election was picking new leaders.

Republicans on Thursday chose Arlan Meekhof to lead the Senate for the next four years. The 54-year-old from West Olive is best known for sponsoring one of Michigan's two right-to-work laws that made union fees voluntary.

Rep. Kevin Cotter of Mount Pleasant was chosen to be Speaker of the House. Al Pscholka of Stevensville also sought the speakership but dropped his bid in exchange for being named to chair the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Tim Greimel of Auburn Hills will continue as House Democrats' leader. Senate Democrats picked Sen. Jim Ananich of Flint to succeed Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing.  

In January, Republicans will have 63-47 and 27-11 edges in the House and Senate.

Detroit will exit bankruptcy.
Ian Freimuth / Flickr

Federal bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes has approved Detroit's plan to exit bankruptcy. Rhodes' ruling comes after several major creditors reached deals with the city in recent weeks.

The ruling clears the way for the city to shed around $7 billion in debt.

More from the Detroit News:

A Republican wave on Tuesday.

Or was it? In Michigan, there is plenty of evidence that it was not, despite being a very good year for Republicans nationally.

More votes, less seats

No doubt there were a lot of Republican victories in the races for governor and the Legislature. But Rick Snyder’s 51 percent can’t be described as a blowout. A lot of the races in swing states were also quite close.

In fact, Democrats actually won more votes in state House races than Republicans. Democrats won more votes but got few seats.

In the 110 state House races, Democrats won 50.9 percent of the total vote. Republicans in aggregate got 48.9. Yes, Republicans won 63 seats but is 48.9 percent of the vote really a “wave”?

Dems win big in education

With one exception, Democrats swept the education boards - the state Board of education and the boards for Michigan State, Wayne State and the University of Michigan. That matters because, even though they are elected positions, almost no one knows who these candidates are.

That makes these board elections some of the most-reliable measures of core party strength - the stalwart yellow dog Democrats, rock-ribbed Republicans straight party ballot voters.

We should note, too, that the one exception is where a Green Party candidate ran a pretty aggressive campaign in the Spartans’ home turf of Lansing and East Lansing. That very well may have siphoned off enough votes from the Democrat to tip the race in the other direction.

Part of the Diego Rivera mural in the DIA. Foundations pulled together to help save the art in the museum.
Joseph Gallegos / Flickr

It’s hard not be awed by the scale and detail in Diego Rivera’s Depression-era “Detroit industry” murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts, but these scenes depicting both the splendor and hardship of an industrial powerhouse were potentially at risk in the city’s bankruptcy.

That’s because right now, Detroit owns the museum and its world-class collection.

And that made Detroit’s creditors—collectively owed billions of dollars—ask: Why shouldn’t the city have to sell at least some of it to pay them?

Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, says the idea was offensive.

“The idea that the art could actually be auctioned off was so … antithetical to our idea of democracy and the role of cultural organizations.”

But that fear actually turned out to be an important lever in the bankruptcy case.

Theresa Thompson / Flickr

Hahaha! No. We're just kidding. 

It's really hard. 

But we were serious about there being only two steps. 

We looked into this question as part of our MI Curious project - people send in their questions about Michigan or its people, questions are put up for a vote, then we look into the winning question.

This time, the winning question came from Michael Bieri.

"What would it take to realistically end gerrymanding in Michigan?" 

Today on Stateside:

  • Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes brings us up to date on the Detroit bankruptcy case and gives us a look ahead at what comes next.
  • Dave Brandon is now the former Athletic Director at the University of Michigan and the search has already begun for his replacement. Michigan Radio’s sports commentator John U. Bacon tells us who may be on the shortlist for the job.
  • The “Little Free Libraries” movement is taking root in Detroit.
  • James McCommons, wildlife photographer and professor at Northern Michigan University, talks to us his path to becoming one of America's leading conservationalists.
  • Our It's Just Politics team updates us on their 5 things to watch on election day. 
  • We talk about how money was spent in this election with Rich Robinson, director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. 

*Listen to the full show above

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